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Powell endorses broadcast industry-imposed code of conduct

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Powell endorses broadcast industry-imposed code of conduct

  • At a secret “summit” meeting of broadcasters and regulators, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said an industry-crafted code of conduct could prevent new, more stringent, government regulation of broadcast indecency.

April 1, 2004 — The National Association of Broadcasters is looking into reinstituting its voluntary code of conduct for television and radio operators, an idea that reportedly was championed yesterday by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.

Speaking to a group of broadcasters and regulators at a privately held “summit” in Washington, D.C., yesterday, Powell endorsed the concept as an alternative to increased government regulation on broadcast indecency.

“You do not want the government to write a ‘Red Book’ of Dos and Don’ts,” Powell said, according to a story in the trade magazine Broadcasting & Cable yesterday. “A ‘Dirty Conduct Code’ will not only chill speech, it may deep freeze it. It might be an ice age that would last a very long time.”

Government watchdog organizations expressed frustration Wednesday that the NAB — an organization that has long fought for media access to matters of public interest — organized the privately held summit. Reporters and the public were not allowed to attend the event, although keynote speakers later held press conferences.

“For some reason, they don’t want the public to have any information about what they’re thinking about on an issue that the public is obviously engaged about,” said Celia Wexler, vice president for advocacy at Common Cause, The Associated Press reported.

The broadcasting industry has come under intense pressure by federal legislators and regulators in the wake of the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show, in which singer Janet Jackson’s right breast was exposed during a national broadcast televised live on CBS. Both houses of Congress have passed legislation to increase fines for broadcast indecency — from a maximum of $27,500 to $500,000 — and to curb violent programming on TV during the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The NAB’s Code of Conduct was first created in 1952. In 1979, the Department of Justice brought suit against the organization, saying the code’s provisions pertaining to limitations placed on TV commercials violated the nation’s antitrust laws. Judge Harold Greene of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., agreed in 1982, and the NAB disbanded the entire code later that year.

According to Broadcasting & Cable , Powell said a new code could simply exclude the legal pitfalls that ultimately undermined past versions. The FCC chairman’s speech was sent to news organizations at the conclusion of the summit.

Although the voluntary code of conduct was scrapped more than 20 years ago, the NAB created a “Statement of Principles” in 1990 that addressed things to be avoided when airing violence, sexually-oriented content and drug use. However, the statement also says the principles are “advisory” and that “there will be no interpretation on enforcement of these principles by NAB or others.” It further explains, “Specific standards and their applications and interpretations remain within the sole discretion of the individual television or radio licensee.”

NAB President Eddie Fritts told reporters after the summit that specific voluntary action by the broadcasting industry would likely be a “long-term process.”


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